“I consider myself an artist, not a fashion designer,” says Roberta Oaks. “This just happens to be my art form at the moment.” Trained as a studio artist, Oaks had “never been a shopper or a fashion maven,” but while studying in England, she was bitten by the clothing-as-art bug. “London’s so fashion-forward; I always felt like such a frump,” she recalls. Then in 2003, en route back to Missouri from New Zealand, Oaks stopped off on O‘ahu and never left. She taught herself to sew and started playing with Decon/ Recon; her decoratively “funked-out” dresses made from thrift-shop slips were a hit at craft fairs, but after two years of conjuring up unique handmade pieces, Oaks decided to take things to the next level. One day, she sat down and designed a batch of bold, sexy, distinctively detailed dresses. After a few Mainland trade shows, Roberta Oaks (Hawai‘i) took off; the line is now carried by fifty-three stores nationwide, and Oaks receives frequent email from “stoked” customers.
A dedicated environmentalist, Oaks was thrilled to discover bamboo fabric online. “Bamboo jersey is an excellent eco-conscious material,” she says. “Bamboo grows four feet a day, and you don’t need to spray with a lot of chemicals.” Oaks now uses bamboo jersey mixed with organic cotton and a soupçon of Spandex for about half of her dresses. Her business card reads, “FUSING FASHION AND ETHICS,” which means, she says, “try to be low impact, use sustainable fibers, use ethical factories and just be more conscious and responsible.” Currently working on her fifth and sixth collections, Oaks still considers herself a designer of wearable art rather than a fashionista. “This is me,” she says. “My name’s on it, so everything has to be just right.”